Stolen Wages in the Nation’s Capital: New Report Shows Where Wage Claims System Goes Wrong and How DC Can Fix the Problem with the “Wage Theft Prevention Act”

Building on the recent passage of an increase of the minimum wage and expansion of paid leave protections in the District of Columbia, a comprehensive wage theft report and policy proposal titled Stolen Wages in the Nation’s Capital: Fixing DC’s Broken Wage Theft Claims Process was released today highlighting how many businesses fail to comply with current wage and hour laws and are rarely held accountable for wage and hour violations because workers are not able to obtain hearings, penalties, or written orders to help them recover their stolen wages.

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The report – which was released by the Employment Justice Center (EJC), the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (Washington Lawyers’ Committee) – also demonstrated how the District’s efforts to combat wage theft and encourage compliance with wage and hour laws have been inadequate. Drawing on their experience as workers’ rights advocates, the authors gathered numerous accounts of wage and hour violations that demonstrated the severity and pervasiveness of wage theft in the District and how the Department of Employment Services has failed to address the problem. The report includes personal accounts of workers’ failed attempts at recovering unpaid wages, which illustrate why DC needs to restructure its administrative process for handling workers’ complains.

Examining precedents of wage theft prevention efforts in New York, Massachusetts, and California, the authors outline legislative proposals that could establish the District as a leading jurisdiction in combating wage theft. The report also explains how the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014, a bill that was co-introduced by Councilmembers Vincent Orange, Jim Graham, and Mary Cheh on February 4, 2014, could amend District law to provide a transparent, efficient, and reliable process to file and resolve wage claims, thereby keeping dishonest and unscrupulous employers accountable and ensuring that the rights of workers across the District are upheld and respected. More specifically, the bill would:

  • Establish formal procedures for recovering unpaid wages, such as administrative hearings with enforceable judgments
  • Increase penalties for wage and hour law violations, thereby covering the costs of enforcing these laws as well as deterring employers from exploiting their workers
  • Require employers to issue formal notice of employees’ normal and overtime pay rates
  • Toll the statute of limitations for filing wage theft complaints when employers fail to post notices of workers’ rights
  • Hold general contractors jointly accountable with subcontractors for stolen wages
  • Increase workers’ access to legal representation.

“Lack of effective deterrence, as well as woefully inadequate enforcement of DC’s minimum wage and overtime laws, make it all too easy for an unscrupulous employer to commit wage theft and nearly impossible for victims of wage theft to hold their employers accountable,” says Ari Weisbard, deputy director of the Employment Justice Center. “DC needs to do more to deter employers from committing wage theft and to provide a fair system for workers to resolve their claims.”

Matthew Handley, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity and Immigrant and Refugee Rights Projects at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, states that “the proposed Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014 is a significant step towards putting the necessary tools for recovery of stolen wages in the hands of the most vulnerable and most exploited victims.”

“All workers should be paid for their honest labor. DC’s current wage theft claims process is plagued by delays and uncertainties that leave many victims of wage theft without a means to recover stolen wages,” said Erandi Zamora, associate counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The proposed Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014 would ensure that fundamental protections are in place to give D.C. workers a fair opportunity to recover earned wages.”

To view the report click here.